The Reconstructivist by Emma Parrella

I take a step out the door, and my foot sinks about an inch into the grass. We’ve had night and day rain for the past week, but a man’s still got to do chores— I can already hear Bessie mooing. I pull my jacket tight around me and trudge around back to the shed. Pulling open the tall red door, I grimace at the sight in front of me.

            “Oh, Bess, you’ve fallen down again,” I rush over to her, “now just stay still, and we’ll have you right back up.” Bessie’s been a bit ill as of late, so I’ve rigged up a jack with a sort of platform that helps me put her right whenever she falls. She’s certainly a bit too heavy for me to lift on my own (though she’s been losing weight as of late) so I just thank the Lord for simple machines.  I prop her against the side of her stall, so she might have a bit of assistance for her weak legs. We used to keep her outside before she got sick, but now I’ve outfitted a stall all nice for her, hay and water and nice and warm. There’s a smell I can’t seem to do anything about, but cows don’t mind smell much. It’s hardly worth trying, but I pull out a milking stool and bucket next. As expected, Bess is bone-dry— she hasn’t given milk for a long time. She’s an old cow, though, and certainly far out of her heyday, so it’s no surprise to me. I pat her flank and smile. “Sorry ‘bout that, Bessie. Bye now.” I squelch my way over to the chicken coop, and climb inside. We’re twelve chickens strong, and they’re all fast asleep this morning. It’s funny, actually— I was sure I heard clucking, but perhaps one woke up and then fell right back asleep. I carefully pick up the first hen to check for eggs. Nothing. The next eleven hens sadly yield the same result. I nuzzle each one as I pick them up— I’ve heard that that can help them lay, and besides, I’m just much more sentimental than any self-respecting farmer ought to be. I’m not sure they’ll ever lay again, though. Truth be told, I’m beginning to suspect that whatever keeps Bess from producing is the same thing that keeps the hens from laying. Even might be what effects that terrible weakness in Fannie and the kids. Speaking of Fannie and the kids, I realize suddenly that the sun’s rather high in the sky— I must’ve spent a bit too long helping Bessie up this morning. I pull my hood over my head and slide through the mud back to the house, making sure to wipe my feet before I walk in— Fannie’d kill me if I tracked mud in.

            I pull off my work boots, and then head upstairs to wake Fannie first. She’s beautiful when she sleeps. I stand for a second, watching her, and then walk over and press my lips to her forehead.

            “Mornin’ darling,” I whisper. I lightly brush her eyes open. Fannie and the kids, like I mentioned, have been awful ill lately, and greatly weak. I have to do practically everything for them.

            “Morning, pumpkin,” she responds, and I feel just terribly sad for her— she’s so weak her lips barely even move. I help her dress, and then I pick her up bridal style to carry her down to the kitchen for breakfast. Her head falls against my chest and her eyes drop shut. I laugh.

            “C’mon, now Fannie, you’ve got to wake up!” She doesn’t move, but instead softly sighs. We reach the kitchen, and I carefully put lay her in a chair. She sags to one side, and I dive to catch her before she falls and right her.

            “Thanks, hon,” she says quietly. Fannie’s always quiet, now, ever since she got sick. It’s a wonder that I’m such a picture of health while they’re all so afflicted. Though, I think it quite possible that the Lord left me be so I could care for them. Which, of course reminds me I must be getting the kids up too now. Jack greets me with “Morning, dad!”, and his voice so bright reminds me of when he used to run around the farm with the other local boys. Fannie used to have to holler for fifteen minutes at least to get him to come in for supper. It’s sad to see him like this, even more than the others. I carry him down too, and set him next to his ma, and leave them to talk while I wake Beth.

She just groans when I wake her— sick or no, she’s a teenage girl. I carry her down, too, and then set myself to making breakfast. It’s a shame, Fannie used to make eggs like nobody else could, but her household duties fell to me when she fell sick. Doesn’t matter, anyway— there’ve been no eggs from our hens, and the general store’s been abandoned, so there’s no chance of eggs there. Luckily, no illness could make the crops stop growing, so I start water boiling to boil some potatoes. I carry on with Fanny for a couple minutes while the potatoes cook, as she seems to think I should’ve sliced and fried them. Frying isn’t good without butter, though, and even if Bessie was giving milk, I barely have time for all I have to do without churning butter as well.

The breakfast is as good as any, although you wouldn’t think it from the potatoes left on the rest of their plates. Beth has always been picky, and lately she’s just been a bit too good for boiled vegetables. Fannie’s told me she’s much too frail to eat, although I think she just doesn’t much like my cooking. Jack, I’ve no explanation for except the affliction. It’s terrible sad to see a boy so weak. When I was his age, I ate no less than four eggs for breakfast each morning, and he can’t even stomach a bit of a potato. It’s no worse than normal, though, so I set them each in their typical spots.

I carefully lift Fannie and take her to her favorite chair. It faces a window, so she can look out and see Jack play. She loves to watch out of windows. She’s always been quiet-like. Part of why I love her. I set her down gently, and then pick up Beth the same way and set her next to her mother. They’re thick as thieves– like to gossip about the other villagefolk and gad on and such. I pull out an embroidery hoop for each of them and carefully place them in their hands. Well, least, I’m careful with Fannie. Perhaps Beth is feeling a bit more frail today, or mayhaps I was a bit too harsh with her, because as I bend her wrist to give her her embroidery, her wrist snaps clean, and I’m left with three hands and her with one. She shrieks, and I go to get our medical kit.

Pulling out bandages, I reposition her wrist and pull a needle and thread from the kit. She squeals as I begin to stitch, but I steadily continue and soon the job’s done. Her blood’s dry from affliction, so it’s fairly clean. I’ve been getting better with stitches. Beth always shrieks and squirms when I have to sew her up– but then, she’s been calling me to kill spiders since she was six, so I s’pose a bit of squeamishness isn’t surprising. I wrap it with bandages to prevent infection, and then kiss her forehead and let her be.

I’ve been improving my mending. The first day of the ailment, I was terrible. I was down in the storm cellar, putting away some cured meats for the winter, when I heard a horrible commotion upstairs. I ran up, but I’d locked myself in by accident. By the time I was up, it was all quiet. I came up to the house almost levelled. I believe a whirlwind must’ve stormed through while I was down there. And there they were, all so sick. Fannie was in the kitchen, lying as if dead. Peaceful like, but a big gash on her forehead that slowly dripped red. I mended her up first. Frantically. I knew I couldn’t lose her. I dug through rubble for the medical kit. Pulling up beams, I found Beth, probably the sickest of them all. She was just red, red, red, too red to see where the injuries were. I scooped her up too, and set her by her mother, and then I stitched, big uneven stitches straight into Fannie’s forehead. The bleeding stopped, but she was sick for good. Then Beth. I ran to get water, to try and wash her off, and there was Jack. He was pinned down by a big wooden beam that’d fallen from the house. He almost looked asleep, but he was the first one to talk to me. I saw him, and I called out his name. I can still hear it, crystal clear.

“Pa! Come help!” I reckoned he’d been running in to tell his ma about the tornado when it hit the house, from the way he was facing. I lugged the beam off him, hauled some water, and then brought him in. It took hours to fix them up. I wasn’t much handy at it at first, and they were badly sick then. I put them back together, though.

I’m thinking about all of this as I pick up Jack. I always take him out to his spot last. He likes to sit on the front stoop and whittle. I always sit a couple minutes with him and whittle. I’ve rebuilt our whole home from the ground up, and I made sure to put in a good stoop for sitting and whittling. I gather knives for us both, and find two sturdy bits of wood, and start carving a whistle. He just looks at his wood. Sometimes, he tells me, he’s a bit of trouble starting a carving.

Sometimes, we talk while we sit. Other times, we just sit like this, quiet. Today’s a quiet day. I look out on rolling fields, the road that leads to a town decimated then abandoned. I look at my son. A mop of blonde, lazy blue eyes, and a wound stretching ear to forehead looking as fresh as the day he got it. It hurt him, surely, but I like it. It reminds me of the family I reconstructed from the brink of death. The blacksmith couldn’t save his family from the affliction, and neither could the cooper. But here I sit, whittling with my son, alive and well.

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Hello! My name is Emma Parrella. I’m a senior in high school and I’m submitting a short story I’ve written for publishing. I’m from New Jersey, I like to read and knit, and I also like writing. I typically write fantasy and some horror, specifically short stories. I’m also not sure what else goes in a biographical statement. I hope you like my story!